September 29, 2015 Strategic Budget meeting

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September 29, 2015 Strategic Budget meeting

Postby Mary Wright » Sun Apr 24, 2016 2:33 pm


A meeting of the Strategic Budget Committee was held on Tuesday, September 29, 2015 in the high school auditorium. Mr. Cortese called the meeting to order at 7:00 PM.

PRESENT: Dave Cortese (Vice Chair), Pamela Holmes, Mike Hughes, Sherry Zetlan
NON-VOTING: Jeanne Lovett (Finance Director), Cortney Keegan (School Business and Operations Manager), Norm Yvon (Superintendent of Schools)
ABSENT: Paula Brouillette (Excused), Scott Yacino (Alternate-Excused), Michael Guzinski (Town Administrator-Excused)

1. Presentation
Mr. Cortese presented the charge of the Strategic Budget Committee. Footage from the September 15, 2015 presentation was shown. Mr. Cortese acknowledged the presence of Rep. Joseph McKenna. Ms. Holmes presented the actions taken to date, such as the restructuring of health insurance, the restructuring of debt, the Board of Selectmen (BOS) hired Worcester Business Development Corp. (WBDC) to prioritize and develop economic development strategies, and fee structures changed for Wallum Lake State Park. Ms. Holmes spoke about the fiscal issues regarding the pilot program for State-owned land. She spoke about possible future recommendations to the BOS, such as a comprehensive review of those pilot payments and land values, utilization of funds from the auction of Town-owned assets to hire an Economic Development Director, meet with legislative directors to underscore the need for economic development in Douglas, and restructuring of the Chapter 70 formula. The Committee would also like to request to the Dept. of Elementary and Secondary Education (DES) that Chapter 70 funds not be used for post-secondary programs and that post-secondary students enrolled at a technical school not be counted towards a town’s assessment.
James Saviano, 124 Wallis Street was informed that the $165,000 grant from the Mass. Office of Travel and Tourism has not been received yet. Mr. Cortese spoke with someone yesterday regarding a miscommunication getting the grant. Mr. Saviano asked if the Town has ever looked at reducing pension costs. Ms. Lovett explained that that is done through Worcester Regional Retirement and is not within Douglas’ jurisdiction. Mr. Saviano is concerned that there is not enough interest in a Proposition 2.5 override, which may have the greatest potential to address the issues. Mr. Cortese stated that the Town needs more revenues or a way to cut expenses.
Nancy Stockwell, 11 Cobblestone Lane, asked about the $165,000 and about future action. Rep. McKenna stated that the pilot formula is based on how the State assesses the value of the land. He and Sen. Fattman have reached out to the Dept. of Revenue and requested a meeting to ask them to change how they value the land. The increase may only be $10,000-20,000. The $165,000 was a special budget account and is unrelated to pilot. Rep. McKenna is working with Nam Pham, the Assistant Secretary for Business Development, to be well positioned to qualify for a MassWorks grant. Rep. McKenna stated that the Chapter 70 Formula Review Commission will be releasing their report in December. A change would not be a rapid process.
Phil Smith, 135 Franklin Street, asked what can be done as a community to push back on the increases in Special Education. Mr. Yvon stated that Special Ed is a portion of the Chapter 70 formula and it has been recommended to the legislature to figure out a different way to fund Special Education. Mr. Smith also asked what can be done to push back on the Town’s assessment for the post-secondary education costs at BVT. He was encouraged to contact the State legislature.
Ms. Zetlan received an explanation in response to her question on the lengthy process to change the formula.
Tom George, 6 Arch Street, asked for more information about what can be done about the budget problem. Mr. Cortese gave an analogy of balancing a household budget and he stated that any proposed solutions would have to go through Town Meeting.
Brett Argall, 3 Royal Crest Drive, asked why the Committee is not recommending a Proposition 2.5 override. Mr. Cortese responded that an override was voted down by a large margin two years ago, and the Committee is reluctant to try again. Mr. Argall wanted to know how the large budget gap was going to be filled. Ms. Lovett spoke about the fluidity of the budget process.
Ms. Stockwell asked if it was possible for someone knowledgeable about the presentation to be present at Octoberfest. Mr. Cortese responded that the presentation is on the website. The Committee told her the presentation could be posted at the PTO booth; it is a public document. Ms. Holmes suggested asking the Tribune or Telegram to publish an article. Jillian Carneiro said that an email can be sent to the papers.
Heather Morin, 9 Charles Street, does not want to see any more cuts made at the school. She suggested that the public pay for transportation. Mr. Yvon stated that the School Committee has been asked about that possibility. They have also been asked to consider regionalization. Ms. Morin feels that the Town of Douglas needs a Facebook page to help get the word out.
Kathleen Hayes, 40 Pond Street, asked if the conversation about economic development and infrastructure has started. Mr. Hughes said that the conversation has been going on for at least 10 years. He feels the main issue is that there is no one person who is primarily responsible for looking at it. Ms. Holmes talked about other challenges to economic development and what Douglas is doing.
Mr. Argall asked Rep. McKenna about how Douglas can be ready for the MassWorks grant. Rep. McKenna stated that it is mostly an ownership arrangement on several parcels of land, and the Town is working with the property owners.
Christine George, 6 Arch Street, asked if there had ever been a town that has said “no more unfunded state mandates”. Rep. McKenna said that it happens frequently. The Atty. General’s website has a link where unfunded mandates can be reported and an appeal can be requested. The administration is calling for a full regulatory review. He has not specifically looked at the unfunded mandates for Douglas.
Jillian Carneiro, 72 Riedell Road, said that the booster clubs will not be able to reinstate extracurricular activities next year. She urged everyone watching the presentation to get involved, otherwise nothing will change.
Mr. Smith personally feels it is shortsighted for the public to feel they can continue without an increase in taxes. If the schools do not thrive, property values will suffer. Ms. Holmes stated than an override needs to come from the ground up. She and Mr. Yvon suggested that the public contact the BOS so they understand what the public wants. Ms. Zetlan stressed that it is not a school problem, it is a Town problem and she stressed for the public to get involved. Ms. Lovett suggested the public view the Annual Town Report, which is posted online.
Melissa Callaghan from Royal Crest Drive stated that the PTO would be happy to share the information if the Committee put it together for distribution.
Mr. Cortese asked everyone present to speak to their neighbors.

2. Adjournment
The Strategic Budget Committee meeting was adjourned at 8:46 PM.

Respectfully submitted,

Mary Wright
Recording Secretary
Mary Wright
Posts: 586
Joined: Thu Jan 12, 2012 8:56 pm

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